Andy Lewis wants to impart a few words of caution
Allow me if I may to reminisce briefly about the 1970s. Lots of things were different then; no one ever went online, no one needed a text every hour to feel loved, Woolworths was the dominant retailer on the high street and Liverpool was a leading football club.
Perhaps nothing was quite so different though as the television schedules. Not only was there no reality or breakfast TV, only three main channels, no ludicrous schedule-fillers (have you seen Supermarket Sweep?) and no live football, but the profusion of, frankly, racist and homophobic programmes was astonishing.
Forget Rising Damp, the ghastly Black and White Minstrel Show and Alf Garnett. By far the worst of all was a dire sitcom called Mind Your Language, which I hope none of you highly principled, post-modern and well-rounded readers ever watched.
Its storyline was, basically: timid white middle-class English teacher gets class full of immigrants, who can’t speak English, and ritually humiliates them, himself and others by laughing at the daft rubbish they say. Weak puns at the expense of people with funny names, and shabby digs at mad religions littered every episode.
It was so non-PC, it made a Dick Cheney speech look almost liberal, and it had the production values of a rather bad primary school concert, without the cute bits. It also had, admittedly by accident, a really important message which forms the backbone of my point this month.
Simply put it is: be careful what you say, because what you say can be heard by other people.
Hold thy tongue
Obvious? Well, sure, but nonetheless a valuable point to bear in mind at your next exhibition, one not to overlook and thus reinforce at your team’s pre-show briefing. Allow me to give a brief, stupendously embarrassing, example to explain what I mean.
I’m transported back to Frankfurt in 1993. The scene is a smashing looking stand used by a fabric company at textile expo Heimtextil. The dramatis personae are a startlingly good-looking export manager (no names mentioned, but he writes an excellent column in this magazine every month), a large German man and the sales director of said fabric business. The scene plays as follows:
Export manager: "That was a great meeting. I think we can do some serious turnover with Herr Biggerman."
Sales director: "What, the fat sweaty one? No way, I know the best wholesaler in Germany and it’s not that fat ****."
Export manager: "Careful boss, I think he’s still on the stand somewhere, but I’m not sure he speaks English."
Herr Biggerman: "Yes, I am still on the stand, I can speak English and no, you cannot do any turnover with me, serious or frivolous, you rude lot."
Sales director and Export manager: "Uh oh!"
To our utter shame, the sales director and I had conducted an extremely personal, rude and unprofessional conversation on the stand, in public and at full volume. Even worse, we had not checked on Herr Biggermanman’s whereabouts and I, a fluent German speaker, had not thought to check if he spoke English.
Our boss, a charming old rogue with no patience and a volcanic temper shot us both in the foot (He didn’t actually, but only because I pinched his pistol).
On the show floor
On another occasion, I was the victim of similar treatment, when a supplier made an extremely derogatory comment about my company into his mobile while buying a coffee in the show café.
I also witnessed a competitor of mine tell one of his salesman to "Get rid of that timewaster Mr X", without taking the time to look over his shoulder. Mr X was stood behind him, having followed him across the stand to offer them both some Japanese sweets as a gift. Needless to say, I pinched the account and still get sweets off Mr X now, 17 years later.
Sounds like something you would never do? Well, plenty do, and unless you nudge them, one of your team may well commit verbal suicide as well. We all spend masses of time on our stand design, on our marketing collateral and on clever ideas to drive traffic. But, pause for a moment in planning and briefing to remind the team of basic courtesies.
Trust me, brilliant stand design, incredible product and outstanding marketing support will count for nothing if you are gratuitously rude to or about anyone. Prince Philip can get away with it because he’s old and has got a few quid. You and I can’t, and shouldn’t be allowed to.
So, mind your language; rubbish comedy, great exhibiting tip.
Andy Lewis is the account director for Aboveline and can be contacted via Exhibiting deputy editor James Barrett.